AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee for education commissioner has received a unanimous endorsement from the State Board of Education but could face challenges when his nomination reaches the Legislature.
LePage nominated William Beardsley to lead the Department of Education on Oct. 19, 2015, triggering a confirmation process that involves recommendations from the State Board of Education and the Legislature’s Education Committee, followed by confirmation in the Senate.
Maine State Board of Education member Jana Lapoint said Thursday that the board voted unanimously to recommend Beardsley. Lapoint said she worked with Beardsley on the state board’s Certification and Higher Education Committee and grew to respect him.
“I found him to be a very dedicated and thoughtful human being and very committed to listening to every point of view,” Lapoint said Thursday. “That’s just the way he operates. It’s always sincere, and it’s always with the best interest of the children of the state of Maine.”
But Beardsley’s route through the legislative confirmation process might not be without obstacles. In 2012, when LePage nominated him to the Board of Education, he faced hard questions from the Legislature’s Education Committee about what he knew about the late Husson chaplain Robert Carlson, who was accused of child sexual abuse. The committee voted along party lines with Republicans in favor and Democrats against. The Senate also voted on party lines, 18-13 in favor of Beardsley.
Beardsley could also face questions about his views on how Maine schools deal with transgender students, an issue that was thrust into the spotlight Thursday when the Bangor Daily News reported that LePage blocked draft rules proposed by the Maine Human Rights Commission regarding how schools should accommodate transgender students.
In 2010, during a gubernatorial campaign debate with LePage on the Aroostook Watchmen radio show, Beardsley touched on his views about transgender people.
“On the transgender issue — it seems like — that I feel so badly for little children that are being, you know, kind of decisions being made for them that are outside what we call our normal activities here in the state and imposing those kind of things on a very small child,” Beardsley said.
Some Democrats who would not speak on the record said Thursday that Beardsley would have to answer questions about his views. So did Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, who is the Senate chairman of the Education Committee.
“I think he’ll have to address that in terms of the context of what’s going on now,” Langley said after being asked about the transgender issue. “My biggest concern is seeing that the education department has steady and consistent leadership, from a management point of view.”
Langley said he has not seen the Board of Education’s recommendation letter.
“I’m sure that it’s positive,” Langley said. “He’s pretty knowledgeable and has been in education for a long time.”
The Board of Education generated a recommendation letter for Beardsley, according to Lapoint and Board of Education Chairwoman Martha Harris. Lapoint said she didn’t have a copy of the letter and Harris referred the question to LePage’s office.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett declined to provide a copy of the letter, which she said was protected from the Maine Freedom of Access Act as a document involving a personnel matter. Personnel matters are exempted from public access laws.
Beardsley, former 22-year president of Husson University, Maine conservation commissioner and 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary candidate, brings his high profile to the position at a time when LePage has signaled a turn back to education reform. Though he has been short on details, LePage has said more than once in public appearances that his final three years in office will renew focus on education, including his goal of reducing student debt.
The Education Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing about Beardsley’s nomination Feb. 17.